E. Czolij’s Speech in Ottawa
Ottawa, March 8, 2012
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am honoured to address you at this conference that I believe is aptly entitled “Ukraine at the Crossroads”.
2012 will be a historic year for Ukraine.
The eyes of the world will be focused on two upcoming events in Ukraine. The first is EURO 2012, co-hosted by Ukraine, when the world will get a glimpse of the modern European state that Ukraine has the potential to become. The second is the October Parliamentary elections.
Unfortunately, the deliberate persecution and incarceration of two of the most prominent opposition leaders, Yulia Tymoshenko and Yuri Lutsenko, in order to prevent them from participating in the next Parliamentary elections, renders these elections suspect.
It is even more troubling to witness the unwillingness of Ukraine’s governing authorities to pay any real attention to the virtually unanimous calls from the international community to revert back to the path of democracy, preferring instead to belittle such calls and their messengers.
As a result, unless a remarkable change occurs in the very near future, Ukraine’s Parliamentary elections will be heading in the direction of last Sunday’s Presidential elections in Russia, which were given the following bleak assessment by Tonino Picula, head of OSCE’s short-term observer mission:
“There was no real competition, and abuse of government resources ensured that the ultimate winner of the election was never in doubt.
Broadcast media was clearly biased in favor of one candidate and did not provide fair coverage of the other candidates.”
In view of Ukraine’s geopolitical importance, the international community must not only closely monitor the situation in Ukraine, but increase the pressure on Ukraine’s governing authorities to release all political prisoners and enable them to participate in the elections. Otherwise, the outcome is bound to be tainted.
We must also send as many short and long-term election observers as possible. This will help curtail electoral violations, protect the freedom of the press and rekindle the Ukrainian voter’s belief in the electoral process.
In addition, Ukrainian voters need to know that the international community will not only be observing Ukraine’s elections, but that the Ukrainian people will not be abandoned if Parliamentary power is seized by fraudulent force.
Looking back at Ukraine’s 2010 presidential elections, the high level of indifference and the low morale of voters were very noticeable. Thus, Ukrainians must be encouraged to vote in high numbers and reminded that voting is real empowerment.
We must also redouble our efforts to impress upon Ukrainian political leaders that a strong opposition is fundamental in any democracy, and that the key to an effective opposition is unity. A quick political reality check must take place by the leadership of the various opposition political parties in Ukraine, and the Ukrainian electorate should be offered a united opposition representing a real and viable alternative.
Ukraine is indeed at a crossroads, and Ukraine’s immediate future will be in the hands of its people in October of this year.
Will Ukraine embrace European ideals of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, or will it drift towards Russian authoritarianism?
Will Ukraine develop into a country that will be truly welcomed into Europe’s community and institutions as a full-fledged member, or will it continue to vacillate between the poles of Europe and Russia?
Clearly, a Ukraine firmly settled on the path toward European integration is critical to our collective interests, especially to maintaining regional peace and stability.
That is why continued engagement with Ukraine should be encouraged both on an official level and, more importantly, on the grassroots level to promote and help develop civil society in Ukraine.
Ultimately, the people of Ukraine share Europe’s ideals and aspire to its way of life, but more policies need to be adopted that make a difference in their lives and counter the pro-Russian forces intent on driving Ukraine away from Europe.
The Ukrainian World Congress will continue to work with its constituents and the international community to help steer Ukraine on the path to democracy. Together with our member organizations, we will play a leading role in the organization of international election observers for Ukraine’s October Parliamentary elections.
I would like to thank the organizers for inviting me to address you today and I wish you all a productive conference.